Rights groups petition hot-pursuit regulation for asylum-seekers

New regulation violates international and Israeli law, organizations claim.

sudanese refugees 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
sudanese refugees 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The state's new regulation for immediately forcing Africans seeking entry to Israel from the Sinai Peninsula to return to Egypt violates international and Israeli law, five human rights groups charged in a brief submitted to the High Court of Justice late last week. The petitioners include Hotline for Foreign Workers, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center, Physicians for Human Rights and the Organization for Aiding Refugees and Asylum-Seekers. They filed the petition after Israeli soldiers forced 48 would-be asylum seekers to return to Egypt hours after crossing the border into Israel. The procedure was based on an agreement allegedly reached between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in which Mubarak promised that Egypt would not force the asylum-seekers to return to their native countries, where their lives might be in danger, and that it would allow them direct access the office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees so that they could apply for refugee status in Egypt. The incident was the only time that Israel returned would-be asylum seekers to Egypt. Since then, Egypt has refused to cooperate and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has denied that there ever was such an agreement between Mubarak and Olmert. In the latest brief to the High Court, the petitioners charged that the 48 Africans who were forcibly returned to Egypt are being held incommunicado by the Egyptian government, and there are reports that five of them were forced to return to their home countries. None of the 48 were given access to the UNHCR. The petitioners also charged that the regulations which the government drafted to define the rules of the so-called "hot return," were illegal. For example, it calls for Israeli soldiers to question each person within three hours of their having crossed the border, even though it is obvious that they are exhausted after their long trek to the border, possibly under pursuit by Egyptian troops. The regulation does not call for giving the asylum seeker any notification of what the questioning is for. They do not realize that this may be their only chance to enter Israel and apply through normal channels for refugee status. The regulation also does not call for interpreters to be on hand. Although most of the asylum-seekers speak Arabic or English, their facility with the languages is often rudimentary and they do not have a fair chance to express themselves.